Year Joined MKLM: 2021
Country: El Salvador
Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza
Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola community center
Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training
Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community, particularly children, adolescents and women.
Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water, and electricity. The area is gang-controlled, and the people live under the constant threat of violence. Nationwide statistics illustrate the educational and employment needs and challenges: roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).
Liz and I are assisting with the many programs that El Patronato offers the community, including the Women’s Collective, the After-School Reinforcement (Refuerzo) program, and the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group.
Our day-to-day work varies widely, for example: helping children with their homework and organizing recreational activities; participating in workshops with the teens and hosting them at our house for conversations in English and activities such as cooking; planning and participating in events and programs to support the Women’s Collective; organizing food supplies for distribution in the community; and teaching the children about the environment and nutrition through work in the community garden.
In addition to working in El Zaite, we sometimes attend Sunday Mass at Mariona Prison outside of San Salvador and are looking for opportunities to serve in prison ministry there as needed.
Bob grew up on Long Island, New York, where he met his future wife, Liz. Bob and Liz raised their three children in the Boston area.
After serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California, Bob began his career in advertising in New York City and went on to work in higher education, holding senior positions in advancement at a number of major universities. Following his career in higher education, Bob worked with organizations in the areas of spiritual ministry and global health. Bob served for many years as chair of Concord Prison Outreach and received the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Volunteer of the Year Award. He also served on the board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. Bob has a bachelor’ degree in political science from Holy Cross College and a master’s in history from New York University.
Bob’s inspiration for joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners comes from the examples of discipleship shared by his family, friends, teachers and spiritual directors, most especially: his parents, Robert and Patricia Cunningham; his wife, Liz; and his uncle, Maryknoll Father Bob Lilly.